This is What Happens to Your Body When You Go Plant-Based
Whenever you adopt a new healthy habit, you want immediate results. The trouble is, change often happens slowly – with one exception: When you transition to a plant-based diet for optimal health and wellbeing, your body starts changing for the better almost instantly. Every time you eat plants versus animals, it turns out, you’ll be changing your cellular health for the better. Here’s what you can expect:
Within 1 hour: Symptoms of diabetes will be easier to manage
Every time you eat, your gut secretes hormones that not only make you feel full but also increase insulin secretion from the pancreas, to signal to your body that it needs to get ready to properly handle the calories coming in, and properly use these as fuel later. Yet when you have diabetes, insulin secretion after a meal is lower than it should be. Not so if you’re eating plants. Case in point: According to a study in the journal Nutrients, after one meal, a tofu-based veggie burger increased secretion of the vital hormone by about 20 percent versus eating a hamburger.
Even better, in people with diabetes, the veggie burger increased the ability to secrete insulin by 30 percent, an effect achieved only by drugs developed to treat the condition, says Hana Kahleova, M.D., Ph.D., study co-author and director of clinical research for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). Best news if you have type 2 diabetes? “Within a few days of starting a whole-food, plant-based diet, you may be able to significantly reduce your insulin dose or medication,” she says. Of course, only do this under a doctor’s supervision and talk to your doctor before you try to treat your symptoms with diet.
In 3-4 days: You’ll start heading to the bathroom more regularly
Not enough fiber is one side effect of the standard American diet, which may explain why so many people report struggled with constipation and other gut ailments. Yet fiber is essential for digestive wellness, among many other things, and because only plants contain fiber, you’ll notice that your bowel movements become more regular after eating whole plant-based foods. “By adding fruits, veggies and whole grains, you’re altering the bacteria in your gut, giving them the food they love which will decrease constipation and keep you regular,” says Jennifer Mimkha, M.P.H., R.D., plant-based dietitian and owner of Prana Nutrition in Tampa, Fla.
Within 1 week: Your cholesterol will be lower
If you’ve seen The Game Changers documentary, you know that after just one week of eating only plants, firefighters celebrated a drop in their cholesterol. Why? “Plant foods have zero cholesterol and generally have a much lower saturated fat content, except for palm and coconut oils, which should be avoided if your goal is to lower cholesterol,” says Joel Kahn, M.D., founder of the Kahn Center for Cardiac Longevity in Bingham Farms, Mich., and author of The Plant-Based Solution. A total immersion into a whole-food plant diet can result in a rapid drop in your total cholesterol as much as 100 mg/dl, which Kahn calls a massive shift. As a result, you may be able to stop taking a statin, or avoid starting a cholesterol medication in the first place. Just never do this without your doctor’s approval.�� (As always, The Beet encourages you to see your practitioner before you make any changes to your diet or medications.)
Within 1 week: Your blood pressure may drop back to normal
A single week of eating a totally plant diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes can often reduce blood pressure by 10 mmHg or more and allow medications to be reduced, Kahn says. Some people might even be able to cut their meds within a few days, or weeks, under doctor supervision. If, however, you take time making it to 100 percent plant-based, changes will be milder and take longer. The one caveat? “If you eat a processed ‘junk’ diet devoid of animal products, your blood pressure may not respond at all,” he says.
Within 1 - 2 weeks: You'll get slimmer, especially if you avoid sugar
In Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine's (PCRM) studies, average weight loss after transitioning to a whole-food, plant-based diet is about a pound a week. Some people, though, may lose two or three pounds a week, if they also stay off the simple carbs and sweets. (Remember plant-based does not mean Twizzlers and sodas but whole foods and high-fiber choices.) If you stick to the veggies and nutrition-dense choices, you can jump-start your weight loss. That means that after one year, you could be some 52 pounds lighter, with only one change, Kahleova says.
Along with eating only fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, make sure you’re avoiding or minimizing sugar, oil and salt. “They cause you to have cravings and systematically overeat,” says Chef AJ, Los Angeles-based vegan chef and best-selling author of The Secrets to Ultimate Weight Loss, who recommends eating foods lower in calorie density, or calories per pound of food, to lose weight. Fill up on foods less than 600 calories per pound, which includes non-starchy veggies, fruit, unrefined complex carbohydrates, potatoes, whole grains and legumes.
Within 2 - 3 weeks: If you have been having chest pain, it could diminish
Serious heart disease brings on angina, or chest pain or discomfort. (If you feel this, run don't walk to call your doctor since it could be signs of serious heart disease or heart attack.) Some patients have seen signs of chest pain alleviate by eating only healthy plant-based foods. Doctors The Beet interviewed tell of how their patients have dramatically reversed symptoms of heart disease in as little as three weeks, by eating only healthy plant-based foods. You can experience rapid, profound changes, with this kind of dietary 180, including angina symptoms dropping by as much as 90 percent, Kahn says.
Within 2 - 3 weeks: Your tastebuds will change
Plant foods probably won’t taste so good at first, and if you're a cheese fan you may miss your favorite Jarlsburg or brie. When you consider that most foods in the American diet are laden with sugar, salt, and fat, those often make your tastebuds water, just by inhaling the scent of a Cinnabon. As a result, foods without these ingredients aren’t that appealing-- at first. Yet give it a couple of weeks and “your tastebuds will adjust to the delicious flavors of whole natural foods,” Chef AJ says. Bonus? The longer you eat only whole plant foods, the more you’ll like them.
Within 3 weeks: You’ll have more energy
Adopting a whole-food, plant-based diet may mean that you no longer have to rely on coffee or other caffeinated drinks to get you through a hectic day, largely because of the nutrient density of the foods you’re eating. “When you stop fueling yourself with quick-burning, simple carbohydrates, and fat-laden animal products and start nourishing yourself with plants, your body will have the nutrients to fuel you properly, giving you lasting energy,” Mimkha says.
Within 1 month: Your unhealthy TMAO levels will fall
Eating red meat and egg yolks can lead to a spike in unhealthy gut molecules that are created when you eat meat. Called Trimethylamine N -oxide, or TMAO, your levels indicate how likely you are to get heart disease. “TMAO promotes clogged arteries, organ scarring, and blood clotting and predicts a worrisome outcome in many disease states,” says Dr. Kahn, who’s drawn more TMAO levels in patients than any other doctor in the United States. Yet when you stop eating red meat and egg yolks (research is still teasing out whether eliminating other animal products will have the same effect), abnormal TMAO levels can return to normal in just four weeks. Ask your doc to check your TMAO with a simple blood test, since this is a predictor of atherosclerosis specifically, and cardiovascular disease in general.
Within 1 month: Your complexion will improve
One of the most significant changes Mimkha’s clients who adopt a plant-only diet experience is a clearer complexion. “When you eliminate animal products, especially dairy, you’re reducing your intake of pro-inflammatory foods, which tend to cause acne,” she says. Cut out the inflammation and your skin and pores can stay cleaner, unclogged, and allow naturally cell turnover without looking dull or red.
Within 6 weeks (or sooner): Your sex life will improve
The documentary The Game Changers showed what happened to three college athletes when one ate a plant-based burrito, one ate a meat burrito and one at a chicken burrito and then all three were measured for sexual function as they slept. The next day they were shocked to see the results of the study, which monitored the size, duration, and frequency of their erections during sleep. The athlete who ate the plant-based dinner had the highest performance in terms of sexual function (stronger, longer and more frequent erections) compared to his counterparts who had eaten meat. Compared to heart disease patients, these results are much more immediate, explains Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, because of their relatively healthy circulation to start with.
How long does it take most people to see sexual performance improve? Anywhere from one to six weeks, Esselstyn explained. Often, when a patient diligently follows a plant-based diet and then stays on it for up to six weeks, Dr. Esselstyn told The Beet, they see a dramatic improvement in their circulation and their ED is reversed, even without the benefit of a pill. The reason, he says, is that the same circulatory system that blocks arteries can also affect the smaller vascularity below the waist. So if lack of performance is an issue, going plant-based can clear it up, since according to doc, the healthier you are overall, the healthier your sex life.
Within 1 year: Your arteries will be less clogged
Clogged arteries have a major consequence: Heart attacks and strokes. Yet if you’re religious about eating a whole-food, plant-based diet, that clogging and hardening is stopped in its tracks. The longer you stay plant-based, the more your blood vessels can recover. What was once narrowing and constricting healthy blood flow begins to open up, in some cases, so year after year, your heart disease or symptoms can actually reverse themselves. After five years your body acts younger than the day you gave up meat, so keep it up, since eating a whole-food plant-based diet continues to have improvements for five years and more, Kahn says.